What does social media do for us, anyway?

I have been one of those beleaguered folks looking for meaningful KPI’s to show senior management that things like The Twitter had a viable business purpose.  Those of us in “softer” marketing disciplines (PR, brand, community, events, social media) have traditionally had a very difficult time quantifying our efforts to prove out what we’re doing to higher-ups accustomed to the cut-and-dried metrics of direct marketing disciplines (SEM, direct mail, display).  Traditional PR and socially-driven program measurements like “ad value” and “impressions” are guesses that media outlets have applied to their real estate in order to provide numerical value to earned media, and these metrics can cause a raised eyebrow among C-level execs who want clear, quantifiable social marketing ROI. (For more on this, check out this article on vanity metrics.)

Relationships aren’t best measured by a single interaction

Those softer metrics are fine for what they are, and “awareness” is actually a perfectly valid business goal: customers don’t usually give it up on the first date just because we winked at them.  But in the case of social marketing metrics, we have the technology to measure engagement.  First, though, we must differentiate between a direct marketing discipline and a relationship marketing discipline.  Direct marketing leads to single-sale conversion, and its metrics are very simple.  We send an email or post an ad with a prompt to buy, and a certain percentage of those people will buy.  The customer journey is clear, linear and trackable.

Now, established brands can indeed use social media channels for quick, direct sales: Clif Bar, for example, once used Twitter to sell an overage of bars at a reduced price.  But this effort was a direct marketing campaign that happened to be on a social channel, not a social marketing initiative – and that’s another article (and it’s covered in this social channel strategy overview).  For the purposes of this article we’re going to talk about the fuzzier side of marketing, which is to say the relationship marketing discipline.  Social marketing is, at its core, about building relationships.

Relationship marketing disciplines are nurturing models that serve a multi-touch awareness effort.

twitter birdClick to tweet

Advocacy can’t happen without awareness

social marketing ROI
A typical sales funnel starts with awareness and ends in purchase, but an ideal customer journey ends in advocacy. Relationship marketing disciplines like social marketing typically touch the customer at the top and bottom of this funnel.

Relationship marketing is a nurturing model that heartily embraces awareness as the beginning of the customer path to sale, and carries with it an understanding that most customers will need multiple touches (read: impressions) before they buy something from us.

That said, in exploring the difference between traditional monologue marketing and social dialogue marketing, we’ve discussed the importance of action-based social marketing metrics (read: a click).  These metrics are important not just because the ultimate goal of social is word-of-mouth, but because this sort of measurement allows us to both follow a customer and set up a reporting process that will please the people wondering why they’re paying someone to fiddle around on Facebook.  With that in mind, setting up a workflow to make sure that every social marketing effort we undertake ties to solid metrics looks about the same.  So, without further ado:

6 Steps to Having An Answer to “What Does Social Media Do for Us, Anyway?”


1. Make sure that the social marketing effort is servicing a larger business goal

As discussed in the deep dive on social media campaign strategy, our social marketing needs to be crafted with a solid business goal in mind.  Once we know what we’re trying to accomplish, it’s a lot easier to measure it.  Don’t try to get more Twitter followers; look to engage targeted social communities and specific influencers that make sense, and craft a Twitter campaign whose success will leads to more followers organically. It’s here that having a good media intelligence solution comes in really handy: influencers are a critical part of our communications programs, and figuring out who to engage (and how to do it) is much easier with a tool that gives us the answers.

2. Use an action-based engagement metric for the first round of tracking

In social marketing, this amounts to a click. If we get their attention, what do we want to do with it?  Do we want them to share?  Click off to a landing page?  Actually purchase something?  Participate in a contest?  Here is where have to understand what sort of action works toward those larger marketing and business goals.

One thing to note here is that people don’t typically like to leave the native app, and herein lies the rub of social media marketing: while we say that our Facebook and Twitter pages are owned media, they’re not really owned – they’re rented. Nowhere is this more evident than when we want to understand how those Facebook likes led somebody to engage on our owned properties. Facebook’s been stripping away various functionalities over the past 2 years that used to allow brands to capture more information from their Fans, ostensibly because it improves the user experience. With that in mind, setting expectations to engagement higher up in the funnel (rather than direct lead capture) is the best bet.

TIP: When reporting out successes for the quarter, we should include all the earned social media shares for any content we marketed both onsite (like blog posts) and offsite (the social shares attached to a Facebook post that was shared by someone else, or the shares attached to an article that was syndicated). Keeping track of the social shares on paid, earned and owned properties helps provide a more holistic view as to what’s working – and why it matters.

3. Follow those clicks

If we’re fine with just understanding what content is engaging folks, measuring the engagement on our social channels themselves (and keeping track of the message amplification therein) is good enough. But if we really really want to use our social media properties to drive people into the purchasing pipeline, that click needs to take them off-site – and that means that we can track them. This level of tracking is typically for those of us who live in an online purchasing model. That said, even if we’re selling cat food in a local store but have an online presence, it’s nice to know what content on our site is keeping people engaged. (And if the “Prettiest Cat Contest” is bringing people in droves, we might consider taking online orders.)

At this point, we need some sort of analytical tool that follows the customer – and we probably need to use a tracking pixel for the landing page and/or UTM’s on the original URL for tracking. Marketo, for example, can tell us how many folks who read this blog post end up asking for more information about our products (thank you, kind friends) – and this is the level of detail that helps social, PR and content marketers understand what content is actually driving leads. With that understanding comes both a better understanding of what content customers want to consume (making this a better experience for them), as well as quality reporting that senior management can appreciate.

Another thing to look at is referring URL’s, which is a free metric from Google analytics. This can be particularly helpful for PR placements, the success of which are notoriously hard to track (beyond the usually-public social share number). If we earned a “New York Times” article and suddenly the NYT is showing up in that same time period as a referrer, that’s something to note.

4. Prompt leads to the next step of engagement

Now that we got his number, it’s time to use it… wisely.  Yes, we should wait at least 3 days.  If we have an email nurturing queue set up to add teeth to our social marketing program, so much the better.  If we don’t, we might consider getting one set up.  It’s up to us to determine how engaged and interested our leads might be in our product. Working with our demand generation team here (if we have one) is a great way to build bridges internally, and make sure that the folks we’re sending along are being welcomed appropriately.

5. Follow these leads through the funnel

Leads may ultimately convert off an e-mail or a sales call, and it’s up to us as the Social Media Manager to make sure that multi-touch attribution is considered and counted toward our own social marketing KPI’s.  Most affiliate models credit the originator of a new lead with the sale; our company may have a last-touch model.  Whatever the revenue attribution model is, it’s important for everyone that might touch a customer to understand where that customer has been touched along the sales cycle. This is another place wherein good software with great analytics come in very, very handy.

6. Report up in a format that helps the boss understand success

Senior executives are busy, but they do like to know what’s going on in our social marketing world – especially when revenue is down.  We might not have to do a Power Point deck, but it never hurts.  (Well, the doing of those slides hurts those of us generally pained by such exercises, but they’re almost never a bad thing to have.)  Keep reporting consistent, both in format and in schedule.  Some things I’ve learned over the years are summarised in the somewhat crude but entirely heartfelt matrix below:

Executive Thumbs-Up Executive Thumbs-Down
Data visualisation Vague explanations
Short bullet points Reading expository statements
Real numbers compared against KPI’s Made-up metrics without hard data
A traceable path to ROI ROI?  *Shrug*


Manage up and stay strong, fellow relationship marketers

At the end of the day, it’s important that our higher-ups understand that getting people to click on a Twitter link is easy, but unless we’re a known brand with lots of followers and we’re having a deadline-driven sale, chances are that our social marketing has more to do with awareness and nurturing relationships than closing the deal – and that’s as it should be.  Social marketing programs usually have an indirect but strategic connection to business goals, and proving our value doesn’t have to mean an immediate sale off a click.  However, we must understand and demonstrate how our efforts encourage the prospective customer along the happy path to a sale, loyalty and – if we’re really lucky – advocacy on behalf of our brand. (For more on that, check out this article on why brand advocacy matters.)